2008-08-13 / Features

Gennaro Warns Of Threats To NYC Water Supply

BY JOHN TOSCANO

"It's important to look for new and alternative sources of energy, but not at the expense of drinking water quality..." "It's important to look for new and alternative sources of energy, but not at the expense of drinking water quality..." Citing the potential for widespread gas drilling in other parts of New York state that could endanger New York City's drinking water supply and possibly cost the city millions of dollars to remediate the situation, City Councilmember James Gennaro has called for a moratorium on gas exploration and drilling near the city watershed.

"It's important to look for new and alternative sources of energy, but not at the expense of drinking water quality, not at the expense of New York City's watershed areas, and not at the expense of city taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars," Gennaro declared at a recent press conference outside his Queens office.

In calling upon Governor David Paterson to declare the moratorium on drilling, Gennaro also noted that concerns about "horizontal drilling" near the city watershed area had been so strong that the governor had already signed an executive order calling for updating the environmental review process currently mandated for gas drilling to accommodate the new drilling technology.

In his letter to the governor requesting the one-year moratorium on gas exploration near the city's watershed areas, Gennaro

D- Fresh Meadows) said the time frame would be sufficient to allow a new environmental review process to be put in place.

The lawmaker, who heads the council Environmental Protection Committee, has also called upon the federal Environmental Protection Agency to render a formal opinion on whether horizontal drilling could harm the city's drinking water supply and force the city to build a filtration plant at an estimated cost of $10 billion.

The new threats to the city's water supply and the possible enormous financial consequences arose when Paterson signed a new law on July 23 that will allow gas drilling and exploration across Western New York State and potentially in the vicinity of the city's watersheds, which provide the water supply for nine million New Yorkers, about half the state's population.

The drilling and exploration for new sources of gas would include use of the controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, or horizontal drilling, which, Gennaro said, has been proven to contaminate water supplies in other states.

The controversial drilling procedure, he explained, forces millions of gallons of water and chemicals horizontally through earth as deep as 9,000 feet underground. The practice has been opposed by numerous environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York-based Riverkeepers, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Earthwatch Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

Gennaro, who negotiated New York City's $300 million acquisition of upstate lands in order to protect the city's drinking water supply, is alarmed by the prospect of horizontal drilling. Consequently, he is scheduling a hearing by his committee at which he hopes to receive testimony from governmental and private environmental groups as well as the energy industry, which will put in place added protections for the city's watersheds.

Typical of the responses to the new threats to the city's water supply facilities was the comment from Eric A. Goldstein, an official in the Natural Resources Defense Council: "The prospect of widespread gas drilling in the Catskill/Delaware watershed represents the No. 1 pollution threat to the downstate water supply."

Goldstein continued, "We are glad to hear that the state is going to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement and believe that no gas drilling permits should be issued until such a review is completed and the impact of industrial gas drilling on the watershed and other sensitive ecosystems are better understood."

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